JK on the Run’s Kevin Tofel has noticed an eye-popping deal currently being offered by Best Buy: Sign up for a two-year Sprint EVDO contract at sixty bucks a month, and you can buy a Compaq netbook for ninety-nine cents. The netbook goes for $389.99 without a contract, so it’s a discount of a whopping $380.
Except, of course, that it isn’t–you’re on the hook for $1200 over two years in broadband charges, and can’t get out of the contract without paying a penalty. On the other hand, you’re likely to pay sixty bucks a month for wireless broadband even if you don’t buy the Compaq netbook, and Sprint charges after-rebate contract prices of up to $99 for EVDO adapters. Maybe the best way to look at the Compaq is this: It’s an EVDO adapter that happens to have a computer attached to it.
Ultimately, the best way to judge most subsidy deals is to ask yourself what the chances are that you’ll still be happily using the subsidized device and the service in question at the end of the contract. If you can imagine yourself carrying a midrange 2009 netbook and using EVDO through mid-2011–and aren’t worried about being joined at the hip with Sprint for 24 months–it wouldn’t be nuts to consider buying the Compaq. Then again, small computers are going to get a lot cooler over the next couple of years, and 4G data will start to matter; I think the Compaq will start to feel a tad stale by late 2010.
One thing’s for sure: The Sprint offer is more tempting than the equivalent ones from AT&T and Verizon, which bring the price down to $199.99 rather than $0.99.
Full disclosure: I used to insist that I’d never sign another contract again, but I’m currently wed to both AT&T (for an iPhone 3GS) and Verizon (for an EVDO adapter) until 2011.